Xbox One and PlayStation 4, collectively known as ‘Next Gen’ consoles, have the capacity to allow far more sophisticated games with better graphics, a larger gaming world and more creative game development. The gaming public are excited about the possibilities of Next Gen and are eager to discover how the increased capabilities of the Next Gen consoles will translate into better and more stylish games. But with amazing graphics already with us, where will the big leap in game quality come from?
During the past ten years the most significant gaming advances have come from better in game graphics. I remember playing the first ever Fifa Soccer game for the Mega Drive and thinking it looked fantastic. Try playing the game now and it is archaic! Compare that with the NBA 2K 14 game for PS4, where your computer player even appears to sweat in a realistic way during the game and it is safe to say we have reached a point where players look almost lifelike.
Not content with looking realistic, player movement and AI decision making mimics the real life sports stars personality and playing style. Messi and Bale play like Messi and Bale in FIFA 14. This heightens realism and is more immersive. Next Gen gamers expect attention to detail on every nuance of a game and the standard set by the first games released on Next Gen consoles has set the bar high for other developers to meet and in time, surpass.
It is such early days for Next Gen gaming that there is plenty of room for improvement. Compare the quality of games in PlayStation 3 when it was first released to what is now being released today. We sit here in 2014 and speculate that we are not yet seeing a fraction of the potential capability of Next Gen games.
The major release of 2013 for PS3 and Xbox was Grand Theft Auto 5. This game presented the best game possible on current gen, squeezing every bit of power out of the console. It can be considered a passing of the torch and an admission that this is as good as it gets on the current gen consoles. Rockstar Gaming even said as much. GTA V underlined that this was a starting point for PS4 and Xbox One, posing the tantalising rhetorical question to the gamer, ‘if we can offer you this on current gen, imagine what we can achieve with Next Gen?’
Early releases on Next Gen consoles have taken advantage of the freedoms offered by improved hardware capacity, choosing to increase the level of immersion in the games. They have chosen to empower the gamer to make decisions that set the direction of their in game experience. I believe this is the way forward for future game development. The constraints of PS3 means that the ‘rats in a maze’ feeling of some games can be relaxed and whilst every game must have its perimeters, the net can be cast wider thus reducing the impact of being trapped like a pinball bouncing around but ultimately drawn towards the games specific conclusion. With larger in game environments, the Next Gen open world games offers more opportunities for the gamer to explore sub-plots, where instead of just completing set missions you can trade to earn money, running businesses or simply explore the vast in-game environment at your leisure.
Recent trailers of the upcoming open world game ‘Watchdog’, which is scheduled for release on Next Gen consoles from May 27th in the UK, demonstrate that the user will be able to interact with any AI member of the public across the vast virtual Chicago landscape in their role as a vigilante rejecting the close security system in the city. The game is so vast on Next Gen that developers Ubisoft have posted online videos of hour-long game play sessions without needing to worry about given away all the secrets of the game.
With the possibilities of open world games so vast on Next Gen, it is very interesting to note that the most successful open world game developer, Rockstar Gaming, have yet to release details of any future prospective Next Gen titles, choosing instead to update GTA V later this year. We know from experience that Rockstar can take up to two years to deliver a title on PS3 and it will likely take at least this long for a Next Gen game. I firmly believe that Rockstar will set a new standard and deliver a brilliant Next Gen open world game, far more vast than anything we have seen so far. Considering the look of Watchdog, this will be a significant achievement for Rockstar, if they get it right.
For those sports fans and sports simulation lovers out there like me, one title has already set a high standard for others to follow. NBA 2K 14 delivers an exceptional standard of graphics quality and the game play looks as real as I can imagine seeing for some years. Even in this early stage of Next Gen sports sim development, NBA 2K 14 has set a very high standard. Their choices offer a glimpse into how the developers will seek to use the power of the Next Gen technology in future games. The vignettes where your player takes decisions off the court like interacting with opposing players, coaches, backroom staff and sponsors will be further developed to enhance the gaming experience, giving the gamer a more immersive experience of life as a professional basketball player rather than focusing solely on game play. I was surprised that such a polished game emerged so quickly. If this is as bad as sports sims get, PS4 will be a happy place for the sports gaming enthusiast.
Without a doubt game developers are under pressure to deliver. PS3 games were good, but PS4 gamers have been conditioned to expect excellence by the robust promotion of Next Gen and anything but a sharp rise in quality will be met with derision by the tough audience who are quick to lament any substandard release. Ask any Madden 25 fan who bought the PS4 version. With the exception of slightly smoother graphics, this game could have been released for PS3 and differs only marginally from the current gen console. That is not good enough and fans of that franchise are expecting better from the developers EA next year.
The challenge is set and gamers are eager to see how the game developers utilise the enhanced capability of Next Gen and the freedoms offered to produce great games. Developers need to balance the current game vacuum against the necessity of producing quality titles. With better graphics, more immersion, a better gaming experience overall and the power of the internet to facilitate gaming battles around the world, Next Gen has thrown us into a new era of console gaming. With it comes a hunger for the excellence, a more critical eye and we watch with anticipation as the game developers work on new releases to take advantage of Next Gen capacity to produce better and more immersive games.